Growing up we are constantly told to take our fish oil as it will help us become smarter. But our parents never really told us why it would help. As the supplement industry continues to boom and with the vast majority of lifestyle choices out there, it’s time to break down omega-3 fatty acids and where to get them in your diet.
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid (referred to EFA) and is the only other EFA besides omega-6. The typical diet has many more times the amount of omega-6 compared to omega-3 and is not typically part of a supplement routine. Omega-3 has two main components to look out for, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA is the portion that may support cardiovascular health, and DHA is the portion that may support cognitive function and eye health.
1. Fish Oil
Old reliable, the one that our parent always shoved down our throats. Well, they at least had a good reason for it. Fish oil provides some of the highest potency and quantity of EPA and DHA per serving when taken in liquid form. An average teaspoon consists of around 1500 mg omega-3 fatty acids per serving and has anywhere between 600-800 EPA and 300-500 DHA. If a liquid is still not appealing, fish oil now comes in pills of different sizes and even gummies for those that don’t like swallowing pills. With most companies going above and beyond, the worry of mercury is all but eliminated due to the filtering process. It makes fish oil one of the most potent options.
2. Krill Oil
Krill oil is your second seafood omega-3 option, coming in decently lower than fish oil in terms of EPA and DHA yield. The average krill oil soft gel contains around 250mg of omega-3, and yields around 100-150 mg of EPA, and 40-70 mg DHA. Some say that the lower amounts are more absorbed through the bloodstream, but no studies are currently conclusive. While the yield may be low, Krill oil also has the antioxidant astaxanthin, which helps reduce oxidative stress on the body.
The precursor to both Krill and Fish oil, Algae is the food substance that provides all the omega-3 for the above. Algal Oil (as it is referred to on nutrition labels) usually yield around 500-600 omega-3 per soft gel, coming in with an EPA content of around 100-200, and a DHA content of around 300-400, depending on the brand. While this is a great alternative to our fishy friends, the process of getting the oil extracted and the quantity needed to provide that much oil makes it a more costly venture. As the market continues to grow, the prices will hopefully drop, making it a much friendlier face for the wallet.
4. Chia Seeds
Another vegan alternative, chia seeds typically come in ground or milled seeds that make it easy to throw into yogurt, salads, smoothies, or even baked goods. The typical tablespoon serving of chia will net you around 2-3 grams of omega-3 per serving. With that being said, most products will not break down how much EPA and DHA you are receiving, and let it be more of a guessing game. Chia and other seeds are typically higher in ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid), and still has great benefits when it comes to cardiovascular health, but the yield may vary from serving to serving.
Chia seeds in a ground up form also allow for a higher amount of fiber, which is a carb that our body does not digest. It allows for the benefit of feeling fuller while we eat. Since it doesn’t digest, our body will not spike our insulin levels, meaning that it will not tell us to eat more food for storage reasons. Always a great add-on when we need a filling snack!
5. Flax Seeds
One of the most versatile ways to get extra amounts of omega-3 is through the use of flax seeds and flax seed oil. Coming in the form of soft gels, liquids, or ground up seeds, it allows for a wide variety of options. Flax seeds follow along the same lines as Chia when it comes to not having yields in the EPA and DHA department, however, it is loaded with ALA.
Now, flax seed is a little different than those mentioned above. It contains both omega 3,6, and 9. Omega 6 and 9 have a whole list of benefits by themselves and are good in moderate amounts. The yield of omega-3 per soft gel form is around 400-600 of ALA, seeds will contain around 2-3 grams of omega-3 per serving. A good quality liquid can contain more than 7 grams of omega-3 in the form of ALA.
Photo by Rick Proctor
No, I’m not talking about cannabis. Cold-pressed unrefined hemp oil is like flax seed oil in that it accounts for having both EFA’s. However, hemp oil generally consists of higher amounts of omega-6 compared to omega-3, unlike flax seed oil. It comes in the same variety as flax. You can purchase hemp oil as soft gels, liquids, or seeds.
This belongs to the group that is strictly vegetarian, as most of those that eat higher amounts of red meat have a considerable amount of omega-3 compared to omega-3. Omega-6 in such high quantities can lead to pro-inflammatory cells, so always make sure that you are taking the best Omega supplement for you before jumping straight in.
And for those that are not quite on board with supplements, but are trying to get a food source of omega-3 fatty acids versus having to drink oils or swallow pills, walnuts are great for getting extra ALA in. Grabbing a handful to snack on while out on a trail or for a quick pick me up while on the job will usually net you around 2-3 grams of omega-3. Just be careful for those that are allergic to tree nuts!
Get Those Omega-3s In!
Whether it is from supplements or food, omega-3 is associated with a healthier wellbeing. There are plenty of vegan and non-vegan options out there for everyone. Throw it in a smoothie, grind it up, or toss them in your pill case in the morning, just make sure to get it in.